Festival For No Reason
Posted by Heliocentrism on November 28, 2014
Saturday, July 26, 2014
So I’ve Started Taking Japanese Classes
Mark and I now live in a new city once again. This time, we live in a little sleepy town called Miyoshi that is behind god’s back and 2 hours by car from Hiroshima city. It’s a nice town with no malls, no Starbucks, and only one McDonald’s.
I get the feeling that the town either used to have more people or they are expecting a population boom. Everywhere you go in this town there are way more parking spaces than necessary. I’m not complaining; I think it’s great. That’s how it should be. It’s just odd. With places like Hiroshima city that seem to have one parking space for every 10 cars, it’s weird that this place seems to have 15 parking spaces for every car.
When we first got to this town, someone at Mark’s work told him about an international potluck. We wanted to meet some people from our new town so I made some chili and we went. The chili was a hit and many people came up to me to talk about my chili.
We met some foreigners from Mark’s company and some others not working for his company. I was a little disappointed to find out that the people who weren’t co-workers of Mark did not actually live in my town, Miyoshi. Miyoshi is big, landwise. It used to be a bunch of small towns with almost no population and with Miyoshi in the center. A few years ago they did away with some of the surrounding towns and called the now bigger town Miyoshi. So now, anyone not in Miyoshi lives at least a one-hour drive from downtown Miyoshi.
So, Mark and I are living in this new city and we didn’t have many friends yet. We also didn’t have internet yet. Getting the internet in Japan is a big almost insurmountable task. It can take months before someone comes by your house to install the cables or whatever they do. There is a lot of preamble to get through, like asking your landlord if it’s okay for you to have the internet and other stuff I don’t understand. Because we didn’t have internet at home our first few months, Mark and I went to the library almost daily to use their free wi-fi.
One day while checking emails I ran into a lady I met at the potluck. She said that she taught free Japanese lesson for some Mark’s coworkers and insisted that I join. “Why not?” I thought to myself. So Mark and I started going to weekly Japanese lessons.
One day the Potluck Lady thought that since I was a housewife, I shouldn’t just have lessons once a week, but twice. She insisted that I join another weekly free Japanese class closer to my home in addition to the lessons at the library. I tried to decline, but I could never come up with a good reason not to go. My Japanese is very bad and I really should be signing up for all the classes I could get. So, I thought I would try it out. “Why not?”
I was given another Japanese teacher and I liked her instantly. She is funny, witty, and she goes out of her way to make her lessons fun and interesting. It’s amazing when you think that the lessons are free!
My company wants me to get more people
So my teacher sends me an email Thursday morning. (My lessons or on Thursday afternoons.) She was inviting me out to lunch at the new restaurant of a British friend of hers. “Great,” I thought, “I love meeting new people.” She picked me and we drove out to the countryside of Miyoshi. The plan was to have lunch then go to class. Classes are held at the Miyoshi Board of Education building.
But we got to talking and time just slipped by. At first we were going to be half an hour late, then that deadline passed. Then we would be an hour late, but that deadline passed too. So, we gave up and just skipped class that day.
During the meal my teacher asked me, and the restaurant owner, if we would like to be in the festival that weekend. I’ve been to many local festivals in Japan with Mark and he always has the same complaint when we see a friend of our’s marching along with the Japanese in the parade. “Why didn’t anyone call me to join too?”
She explained that the company that owns the study-school she works for, needed more people to march. She was asked to recruit family, friends, neighbors, students… anyone. She talked about 10 of her kids to join and was now working on getting some adults involved. We wouldn’t have to pay anything. The company provides all the clothes, shoes, drums, and anything we would need. I told her that we would love to join and the next thing I knew Mark and I were in the back row of a practice march and beating drums.
First let me explain how this works. In most Japanese festivals, companies want their presences to be seen so that everyone can know that they are part of the community. (It’s actually not just companies but clubs and schools too.) The workers love festivals and most people feel proud to be working at their company so it’s a win-win for both the company and the workers.
Every year the company does the same dance steps in the same outfit. Then, starting from a few weeks before the festival, everyone practices the moves for 30 minutes after work everyday. So, these guys have been practising for weeks and they were doing the dance or march steps they had done last year, and the year before that, and the year before that for however long they worked at the company.
Mark and I started practicing 2 days before the festival. We were terrible! We would start off on the wrong foot, spin at the wrong time, hit the wrong beat on our drums, and were generally out of sync with everyone else. There was an eight-year-old girl in front of me who was really showing me up!
We were so bad. The march leader tried to teach us the moves. First she showed us the beat we needed to play. “Great,” I said when I finally got it. I was really for the next part. She showed us the footwork. After a few minutes I got that too. Then she got the group in place to start practicing another round or marching. I had the beat and I had the footwork. I just need to put them together.
The leader blew her whistle for us to begin marching in sync. I got a few steps in and noticed my drumming was off. I corrected the drumming, but now my footwork was not right. Every time I got my drumming in sync with everyone else’s, my footwork be off and visa versa. I thought that this would never work. But the leader came over to me and told me to relax, just have fun, and not to worry if I messed up.
Mark and I came to practice the next day and we were a little better. In practice on Saturday, the day of the festival, we were a little better still. We never did get it right, but by the start of the festival we had figured out that the drumming was the most important part then came the spinning at the right time. Everything else could be faked and done halfway. The most important part was to look like we were happy and having a great time. This was a festival after all.
Bento and Beer
Before the last practice on Saturday we were given lunch and the clothes we were to wear. Throughout the whole thing, we were liberally showered with free sodas, juices, and sports drinks. On Saturday beer was added to the offerings. The drinks were placed and huge bins with big blocks of ice.
The men, Mark included, drank all the beer they wanted. But, it was a really hot day and after a while everyone chose tea or sports drinks over the beer. No one got drunk or even tipsy.
Do you want to get her hair done?
My Japanese teacher turned to me as I finished my bento and asked if I wanted to get my hair done. “What would they do?” I asked. I didn’t really want anyone in my hair, but I was curious as to what would happen if I gave someone free range. “Oh, they would put it up, add more hair, and put flowers in… like that lady.” She pointed to a women with an entire garden on her head. It did look quite festive.
Mark turned to me and said, “You should do it. It would look nice.” I looked at him a little annoyed, “My hair can’t do that!” I turned to my teacher and politely told her, “My hair really can’t do that. It won’t go up.” “It doesn’t have to go up,” she said, “they could just put some flowers in.” Mark sipped his tea and nodded. “Flowers,” he cooed, “that would look nice.”
“What the hell does Mark know about my hair?” I thought. But, as I looked around the lunch room I notice that 90% of the women there had crap loads of gigantic flowers in their hair. If I was going to do this festival thing, why not do it right. “Alright,” I said to my Japanese teacher, “But just the flowers. No putting my hair up.”
Of course that was just the agreement between my teacher and me. The lady doing everyone’s hair downstairs had her own ideas. I told her that my hair was hard to deal with and it would refuse to be put up. But, she was not one to back down from a fight.
I sat in the hair chair and she took out a tiny-toothed comb. I looked at her comb suspiciously. She began and I could feel her tugging around my head. She said something in Japanese. “What did she say?” I asked my teacher. “She said your hair is very… ummm… very,” “Powerful,” came a voice at the other end of the room. “Yes,” my teacher agreed, “powerful.”
But the hair lady did not give up. She put my hair up in several parts and pinned in some flowers. I didn’t like it, but everyone else did. In the end it didn’t really matter. No one knows what my hair is “supposed” to look like. They only cared that it had flowers in it like everyone else, so I just went with it. “Why not?”
As I was getting my hair done I asked the ladies in the room what the festival was celebrating. No one knew. I got answers like: “It’s just a festival,” “We like festivals,” and “Fun!” A festival for no reason… “Why not?”
Is there anyone left to watch this parade?
In the end we marched our little hearts out. At first there were only a few people watching the parade. With hundreds of people in parade it looked liked our tiny town didn’t have anyone left to watch. But once we got downtown and on main street there were more people. Of course many of those people where the same ones from the front of the parade who reached the end and were now watching.
Once we got to the end our group disbanded. We changed our clothes and watched the rest of the parade as we ate festival and rested. It was a long march on a very hot summer day. Mark and I had a great time. We even told my teacher to sign us up for next year’s festival.
How to get there:
You can enter Japan by plane or boat. Though, the number of boats going to Japan from other countries has gone down significantly. Americans get 90-day visas to Japan at the port of entry. Check with your nearest Japanese embassy or consulate for visa information.
- Emergency Numbers:
- Police 110
- Ambulance and Fire 119
- Important phone numbers to know while in Japan
- Comfort Woman
- The Commoner
- Empire of the Sun
- Flyboys: A True Story of Courage
- Geisha, a Life
- Ghost Soldiers: The Forgotten Epic Story of World War II’s Most Dramatic Mission
- The Last Concubine
- Memoirs of a Geisha
- Tears in the Darkness: The Story of the Bataan Death March and Its Aftermath
- Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan
- What I Talk About When I Talk About Running
- Be careful what over the counter drugs you bring into Japan. Actifed, Sudafed, Vicks inhalers, and Codeine are prohibited.
- InternationalATMs are really hard to find; more so if you aren’t in a big city. Many places in Japan do not use credit cards. Take cash and call your bank toaskwhatATMs or banks in Japan will work with your cash card.
- ATMs have opening hours. Usually 9:00-18:00 (They have better work hours than most business men and women here.)
- The Post Office bank seems to work with most cards.
- You can get a Japan Railway, pass which saves you a lot of money on the trains, but you can only buy it before you get to Japan and you cannot be a resident of Japan. (I don’t have more information about it because I’ve only ever lived in Japan. I’ve never been a tourist.)
Miyoshi City (Hiroshima Prefecture)
How to get there:
- Coordinates 34°48’11.2″N 132°51’21.9″E
Miyoshi city, Hiroshima prefecture 728-8501
- Miyoshi City
- Miyoshi City English website
- July 26th festival Official Website (Miyoshi Kinsai Festival)
- All Festivals
- This town is one of the few towns in Japan that has more than enough free parking everywhere.
- This is a small town. I know it calls itself a city, but it’s not. Nothing opens before 9:00 and everything is closed by 21:00. The exception being convenience stores which are always open.
- There are many Miyoshi cities in Japan. This one is in Hiroshima prefecture.
- This town is mostly known for its wine (and lack of Starbucks).